Pioneering workplace health project awarded £3m funding

By Active Lancashire

11 Jun 2021

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A ground-breaking new initiative that will improve the health and wellbeing of employees across Lancashire has received a multi-million pound funding boost.

UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) healthy ageing challenge fund has given £3m to an Active Lancashire led project which will upskill gym and leisure centre employees to conduct physical and mental health screenings in workplaces across the county.

Delivering more than 15,000 health screenings over a three-year period, the Workplace Health Screening Project will target businesses with employees aged 50+ and SMEs that experience lower levels of productivity as a result of poor employee health.

The screening tool and associated training programme have been developed by specialists from the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) School of Medicine and are consistent with the approach used in NHS medical practices to identify conditions that can lead to poor health in later life.

Businesses will then be offered a range of supportive interventions for employees, based on the outcomes of the screenings, encompassing both physical and mental health support. The interventions will be delivered by a range of Lancashire-based providers and will empower employees with the tools to improve their overall health, whilst employers will benefit from increased productivity and resilience within their workforces.

The project brings together a range of local and national partners and forms part of the wider ‘Business Health Matters’ programme which helps SMEs understand how they can support their staff; an issue that has been identified in a survey of more than 400 local business over the last 12 months.

Adrian Leather, chief executive of Active Lancashire, said: “Business Health Matters represents a huge opportunity for Lancashire businesses to improve the health and wellbeing of their employees and to contribute to Lancashire’s economic recovery following the pandemic. Poor health results are responsible for half of the lost productivity in Lancashire, valued at £650 million, as well as the early retirement of 24,000 skilled workers who leave employment at least a decade before their planned retirement date.

“By working with the innovative partners on this project, we are able to offer high quality, local and low-cost workplace health screenings and contribute to retaining valuable skills in the workforce, improving staff satisfaction and reducing long-term business disruption costs in businesses across Lancashire.”

Professor StJohn Crean, UCLan’s pro vice-chancellor (research and enterprise), said: “We’re delighted this project has been backed with £3m in national funding because it will improve the mental and physical wellbeing of thousands of employees within Lancashire, contributing to the region’s economic prosperity and working towards achieving the levelling up agenda. Our newly developed training tools which not only enable leisure professionals to upskill themselves, but they will offer a vital work-based resource which will help ease the burden on our already stretched NHS.”

Combining a £70,000 grant awarded in late 2020 for stage one of the project and additional funding from a range of partners, today’s announcement brings the total value of the project to £5.5m. As one of only five projects receiving funding from the UKRI’s healthy ageing challenge, the initiative can now progress to three years of delivery and research with support from a range of partners including Lancashire Mind, ukactive, Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Chambers of Commerce, Sport England and Lancashire County Council.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, the UK’s trade body for the physical activity sector, said: “Physical activity has a crucial role to play in workplace wellbeing, supporting not only physical health but also mental health, individual purpose, team ethos, productivity and organisational culture.

“Organisations in the physical activity sector can play a lead role in improving the wellbeing of our nation’s workforce and this in turn will bring significant economic returns for UK plc. It is great to see this initiative bring together local bodies and leading experts in physical and mental health to make a real difference to Lancashire’s workforce and we believe projects such as this can support our ambitions to improve working life in the UK.”

Alongside the physical assessment, the project has brought together expertise from Lancashire Mind to integrate a mental health aspect for employees, making the screenings truly unique in their approach.

Tommy McIlravey, CEO of Lancashire Mind, added: “The last 12 months have been challenging for many and the changing work landscape means that the mental health and wellbeing of staff is even more vital. The Business Health Matters project will help companies develop a strategy to position them as a forward-thinking employer and demonstrate they have the best interests of their staff at heart.

“Openly discussing and supporting mental health in the workplace can boost staff morale and productivity by stopping issues from escalating, helping you to keep highly skilled and valuable members of staff in the workplace. Prioritising workplace wellbeing and recognising both physical and mental health as equally important, is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.”

A number of local authorities and leisure trusts are also partnering with Active Lancashire on the innovative project, with dedicated staff set to deliver the screenings and interventions in workplaces across the county. To find out more and register your interest in the programme, please click here: https://www.businesshealthmatters.org.uk/

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